Date icon08 July 2019

Physical Access control

If access control is a way to maintain the security of both real-world and digital spaces, physical access control can be seen as a locked door. Only admitting entry to a building, room or area to those with the right ‘key’ – such as a code, fingerprint scan or ID card – physical access control serves as a responsive barrier that creates a secure physical environment.

Physical access control isn’t just about keeping people out though, it can also be used to manage the number of people or vehicles that can enter or leave a space at once, making it an important component of crowd control and health and safety implementation.

Here we explain how physical access control systems work and how the technology is continuing to evolve.

The three elements of access control

All types of access control – physical access control included – can be understood in terms of three key elements; identification, authentication and authorisation.


When the security of a building or space relies on only granting access to certain individuals, a physical access control system needs a way to tell them apart from everyone else. Types of physical access control identification include PIN codes, ID cards, barcodes and biometric characteristics, such as fingerprints, voice patterns and irises.


This is where the identification credentials presented to the access control reader are checked against what’s stored in the system. Some types of access control have just one, single factor authentication process, others have two or more (more on this below).


If the credentials match an authorised record within the access control system, the individual will be authorised to access whatever the system is restricting access to – in the case of physical access control, the secure building or space.

Multi-factor authentication

All physical access control systems have at least single factor authentication; an element the system asks the user to submit in order to check their identity, such as their fingerprint. Solutions with additional authentication checks ask for more than one form of identification before granting access, increasing the level of security of the restricted space.

For example, two factor authentication access control might ask for a form of biometric identification like a fingerprint, and something the user knows, such as a PIN code.

Access control systems with three factor authentication might require a fingerprint, a PIN code and something the user carries, such as a proximity ID card, before access is granted.

The future of physical access control

Advancing technology is opening up what’s possible in terms of physical access control. The industry is moving towards ever-more convenient identification and authentication methods for authorised individuals, while increasing security in relation to those without authorisation. So, next time your business upgrades to a new physical access control system, you might find yourself considering some of the following features. 

With their ability to transmit encrypted data at short distance, it’s likely we’ll soon start to see ID cards and badges replaced by smartphones. Most people are never without their phones, so using these near-field communication (NFC) enabled devices as proximity ID instead of an easily-misplaceable card or badge makes perfect sense.

As well as cutting data storage costs, storing system data in the cloud will make for further and smoother real-time integration between access control systems and other applications that contribute to organisational management, such as CCTV and time and attendance software. What’s more, the cloud will enable anyone, anywhere (with the right permissions, of course) to monitor and manage a physical access control system online.

Ensure a secure and streamlined working environment with physical access control

Future developments in access control are exciting, but our access control solutions are perfectly-equipped to preserve the security of your organisation right now. To find out more, please get in touch with us today.


About the Author

Physical Access control blog author Lynden Jones

Lynden Jones
Lynden joined Touchstar ATC (formally Feedback Data) in a sales role for Access Control in 2010.  Prior to joining the company, Lynden held both Production and Account Manager roles, gaining wide technical and commercial experience within the electronics market.  

In 2013 Lynden was promoted to Sales Director and in 2017 he took overall responsibility of the business as Managing Director. As well as running Touchstar ATC, Lynden still remains extremely active in the sales and key account management aspects of the business. When not involved in the business, Lynden is a keen performance car enthusiast.